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San Jose Earthquakes smash Chicago Fire 5-1 on Frank Yallop's return to Buck Shaw Stadium

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In the only game in MLS that mattered Wednesday, on the same evening five other teams were playing friendlies against summer vacationing foreign clubs, the San Jose Earthquakes pummeled the visiting Chicago Fire 5-1 at sold-out Buck Shaw Stadium. Plus, overheard after the game, the Quakes are close to signing a big-name central midfielder, pending he passes a physical.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The "Return of Frank Yallop" was marked by a return to the Earthquakes of 2012 as a barrage of goals from San Jose resulted in a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Fire at a sold-out Buck Shaw Stadium.

A first half golazo from Shea Salinas was followed up by second half strikes from Atiba Harris, Chris Wondolowski, Yannick Djalo, and Cordell Cato. The defense allowed a consolation goal to the Fire when the game was no longer in doubt, the only fault by the Earthquakes all night long.

"Very pleased, obviously," said head coach Mark Watson. "Anytime you are scrapping to get wins and points, to have a good result at home and a really good performance, it was a good three points for us."

The flurry of goals allowed the Quakes to push their goal differential inside positive territory - 22 goals for and 20 goals allowed - for the first time since losing 1-0 to the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium in June. The result also marked San Jose's greatest margin of victory this season, the next best a 3-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo on May 25, incidentally, the last time the Earthquakes won a game at Buck Shaw.

"As a team, we were flying tonight," said Salinas, "and probably should have had a few more before my goal. It was a fun night tonight.

"Defensively, they didn't have their best game, and offensively, we had one our best, so it was a good combination for us."

Less than a week after scoring his first goal of the season, a hopeful sign for a team that needs offense from wherever it can get it, Steven Lenhart was a late scratch for San Jose. With Alan Gordon not in the 18, Watson elected to move Djalo into an attacking role in partnership with Wondolowski and inserted Harris on the wing. It marked the first game the Quakes have gone without a target forward since losing at the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 on May 3, and the change changed the dynamics of the offense.

"We know Wondo is comfortable playing up front," said Watson on the Wondolowski/Djalo partnership. "It's not he's playing on his own; he has someone with him, but just a little bit withdrawn. I thought they established a good relationship early on and were on the same page and had some really good moments in the game.

"We've played him there before," continued Watson on his decision to play Djalo at forward. "When you are searching for performances, results, points, you try different things. Based on the performance tonight, things look pretty good, so I think there's a chance we will see that again."

The view from the goal was equally as impressed, as the new-look formation made life easy for the Earthquakes defense.

"That is what we are capable of with the guys we have up front," said goalkeeper Jon Busch. "We have some very talented players, and tonight it all came together."

The Earthquakes, playing with setting sun at their backs to start the game, did not look out of step because of the late line-up change, controlling possession in the opening minutes as they tried to use speed to get behind Chicago.

Wondolowski, who had a handful of scoring chances go wanting last weekend against New York, had the first, best opportunity to break through for the Quakes in the 17th minute when he collected a loose ball by Bakary Somare at the top of the area. Taking a touch to his preferred left foot, Wondo drilled low shot right at goalkeeper Sean Johnson, ending the fleeting threat.

In the 27th minute, Wondolowski did his best to play the role of provider, scooping up a ball and twirling around as he delivered a ball into space for Sam Cronin to press toward goal. With the defense converging, Cronin audaciously curled a shot around Johnson, but the ball passed harmlessly wide of the post.

Perhaps inspired by Cronin, Wondolowski emulated the Quakes MVP in the 31st minute. Beating the offside trap, Wondo tried his own curling effort from the left side of the area, but the ball sailed tantalizingly by the far post.

Third time the charm for curling shots from distance? Not for San Jose, as Yannick Djalo gave it a go in the 34th minute from a pass into space by Cronin. Djalo's attempt was the farthest off target of the trio, and promptly put the strategy into question.

But for these Quakes, it was a case and if at first and second and third you don't succeed, try, try again.

In the 45th minute, Salinas tried to break down the left wing, but the ball was stripped by a sliding Jhon Kennedy Hurtado near the center line. The dislodged ball fell favorably to Djalo and the Portuguese forward one-touched a ball into space for Salinas, still racing down the line. The speedy winger carried the ball all the way into the area before cutting back against Hurtado and curling a perfect shot into the far upper corner. The Earthquakes persistence paid off, and San Jose enjoyed a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

It didn't take long for the Quakes to double their lead, as a close range shot by Wondolowski in the 52nd minute was slowed by Johnson, but pounced on by Harris and blasted into an empty net. Harris had started the play with a well-timed run into space and had squared the ball to Wondo for his shot attempt.

And then it was Wondolowski making it three. A great individual effort in the 62nd minute allowed the Earthquakes leading scorer to take his season tally to seven. With space to thread a pass into the attacking third, Harris delivered the ball right to Wondo in stride. Fending off a defender with his right shoulder, Wondolowski struck the ball with his left foot, inside the far post, extending the lead to 3-0.

Chicago pulled one back in the 74th minute when Grant Ward found acres of space on the right wing on a counterattack and fired far post to beat Jon Busch. The strike breathed life into a moribund Fire offense as the visitors tried desperately to get back into the game.

However, it was the Quakes who struck next, as a clever lob by Djalo over a charging Johnson in the 79th minute restored a three goal lead for San Jose.

And then it was five, with second half substitute Cordell Cato getting in on the action in the 84th minute. A swift counterattack by Wondolowski propelled the forward into the area. He elected to square a pass to Cato near the penalty spot, and the young winger collected the ball and fired low under a diving Johnson.

Extra Time Notes:
  • In recent reports, team representatives have made it clear that they are looking to add to the roster in the currently open MLS summer transfer window. Overheard after the match was that the Earthquakes have agreed on a multi-year deal with a big-name central midfielder, pending the player passes a physical. If he does, the Quakes expect to make an announcement of the signing very soon.
  • Coach Watson was asked after the match about the availability of Alan Gordon, who was not even listed on the matchday 18, despite playing last Saturday against the New York Red Bulls and training with the team as late as Tuesday. His initial response was a curt "Not available tonight." When asked if it was a coach's decision, the answer was a simple "Not available." It did not appear that Gordon was in attendance at the game either.